Series Preview #3: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies

It probably took you a second to see him, but that's okay, because he sees you just fine...

If the NL West in 2012 was a coffee shop, the Rockies would be the weird guy sitting by himself at a table in the corner while staring at his biscotti and giggling to himself: you just don't know what to expect from him.

After being the trendy pick to win the division before the '11 season, the Rockies had a fantastic April before going 56-81 the rest of the way. That's a winning percentage of .408. The 2011 Seattle Mariners had a winning percentage of .414. What I'm getting at is that Rockies fans probably found 2011 to be a bit of a disappointment.

Unfortunately, the Rockies found themselves in a weird predicament headed into 2012. The team has a strong farm system, with guys like Nolan Arenado and Drew Pomeranz knocking on the door. With the talent that the Rockies have on the way, combined with young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez who will be in Denver for the forseeable future, nobody would have faulted the Rockies for being patient and sacrificing 2012 for the sake of upcoming seasons.

On the other hand, I've never gotten the sense that Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd is a patient man. Remember, this is a man who, back in 2010, refused to wait for the final three years on Tulowitzki's existing contract to expire because he wanted to overpay him now. And he spat in the face of patience again this winter, bringing in Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez and Casey Blake to improve the offense. All of his acquisitions are at least 33, so they're not really long-term fixes, but they should make the offense better for now.

On the other hand, O'Dowd also needed to reinforce a rotation that suffered from injuries and inconsistency in 2011, and that was where things got weird. Look, I'm not saying that the Rockies sent fake wedding invitations to every flyball pitcher in the majors, and signed everyone who RSVPed, but it sure does seem like Jamie Moyer, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Morcoso, and Tyler Chatwood are odd choices for a team that plays baseball at over 5,000 feet, particularly for a team that needs to fill no more than two rotation spots. So, yeah, nobody seems to know what to do with the Rockies, with preseason predictions ranging from near the bottom of the NL West to fighting for the pennant.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(5-1)
Colorado
(2-4)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 94 98
Colorado
Pitching (FIP-):
106 134
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
N/A N/A
N/A

These numbers come from a six-game sample, and I shouldn't have to tell you just how unreliable that is. As you'll notice, Fangraphs doesn't even publish UZR numbers this early in the year, which is probably a good thing, since it keeps idiots like myself from reading way too much into numbers that don't mean anything.

Even with the tiny sample size though, the trends behind Colorado's numbers are sort of what you might have expected going into the season. Their offense should be better, and it has been so far, even though that wRC+ is skewed because they scored 17 runs in one wild game against the Giants, compared to only 12 runs in their other five games combined. No team is going to have a team FIP of 5.35 like the Rockies currently have, but the early results seem to suggest that bringing a bunch of soft-tossing, fly-ball artists to Coors Field may have been a flawed concept.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Chris Young, CF
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
7. Jason Kubel, LF
8. Ryan Roberts, 3B

Colorado Rockies

1. Marco Scutaro, 2B
2. Dexter Fowler, CF
3. Carlos Gonzalez, RF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Todd Helton, 1B
6. Michael Cuddyer, LF
7. Ramon Hernandez, C
8. Chris Nelson, 3B

After six games against the Padres and Giants, this lineup looks pretty intimidating by comparison. While the Diamondbacks painstakingly attempted to sign all the mediocre, aging infielders on the market using real, paper currency, the Rockies just threw a 26-year-old pitcher who hasn't had a season with an FIP below 4 since Single-A at the Red Sox and got a guy who's better than anyone the Diamondbacks signed. Scutaro's career OBP of .338 will sure look nice once Bloomquist goes back to hitting routine grounders at the catcher on the second pitch of every at-bat. Meanwhile, Dexter Fowler is speedy and better at taking walks than you probably remember.

And that brings up the heart of the order. Most teams would probably be pretty happy with getting a line of .295/.363/.526 from their 25-year-old right fielder. But when that right fielder is Carlos Gonzalez, who hit .336/.376/.598 the season before, that actually feels like a let down. Thus, the Rockies are hoping for a "bounce-back" season from Gonzalez. Troy Tulowitzki looks like a douche, has dumb hair, listens to Miley Cyrus and probably hangs out with Dinger in his spare time. He's also one of the very best position players in baseball when he's healthy. Todd Helton has a career line of .322/.421/.549. I know, I know, Coors Field and all, but still, just look at that thing.

In Michael Cuddyer, the Rockies overpaid to have a former Twins part-time designated hitter lumber around left field for them. Silly Rockies, why would any team do something like that? Sorry, not sure how that link got there. Moving right along, Hernandez is replacing Chris Iannetta, who departed in the Chatwood trade, and Nelson is replacing Casey Blake, who went from being the probable opening day starter to being cut over the course of eight spring training games.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Daniel Hudson (1-0, 5.40) vs. Juan Nicasio (0-0, 1.29)

Insightful Commentary: Someone--I don't remember where I heard it--called Daniel Hudson a "slow starter" in reference to how he started the season last year. This is untrue: Daniel Hudson is a pitcher who happened to start slowly last year, to the tune of a 5.64 in April. Something happening one time is not a pattern. And so, I really hope Hudson shakes off his mediocre first start and has a dominant April, both because I want to see him succeed, and because I want whoever called him a slow starter to feel appropriately shamed.

Juan Nicasio was one of the Rockies' best pitching prospects, and he seemed to be making the transition to the majors pretty well in 2011. Then he broke his neck while playing baseball. I'm not going to embed the video here, because oh god oh god why would you want to watch that, but for those of you who don't know, Nicasio got hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Ian Desmond with enough force to fracture the C1 vertebrae in his neck. The fact that he's out there pitching again less than a year after it happened is something of a medical and psychological phenomenon.

Saturday: Josh Collmenter (0-0, 15.00) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (0-1, 9.00)

Insightful Commentary: I started calling this space "Insightful Commentary" as an ironic nod to how under-qualified I am to analyze anything in baseball, especially pitching, but it has never been less accurate than it is now. I honestly have no idea how this start is going to go for Josh Collmenter, and I don't know what the fallout is going to be if it goes poorly. I hope he doesn't get demoted, because I genuinely enjoy watching him pitch and I want to see the second act of what was one of the best stories in baseball last year, but I also know that people are openly talking about it. Last year, seemingly every time Collmenter had a few bad starts and people (including me) declared that the jig was up, he responded with one of his best performances. Here's hoping he can do it one more time.

Chacin didn't have a bad season last year, as a 3.62 ERA at Coors Field is perfectly praiseworthy. But for whatever reason, his strikeout rate plummeted last year, from a K/9 of over 9 in 2010 to 6.96 in 2011. For whatever reason, batters stopped swinging at his pitches outside the zone, and their contact rate spiked inside the zone. Chacin is still only 24, and he didn't suffer any sort of drop in velocity last year, so there's reason to believe he can get his K-rate back to where it was in 2010.

Sunday: Trevor Cahill (0-0, 1.50) vs. Drew Pomeranz (0-0, 0.00)

Insightful Commentary: Existentialist pinings aside, Cahill ended up having a strong debut for Arizona. The walks suggest that he struggled to find his release point on Tuesday, but it also suggests that his pitches have a ton of movement to them, particularly downward movement. The Brandon Webb comparison is a lazy one to make, in addition to being somewhat unfair to Cahill, since his off-speed stuff isn't at the same level as Webb's. However, he has the most aggressive sinker that I've seen since Webb, so take that for what it's worth.

With all due respect to Alex White, Drew Pomeranz was the main reason the Rockies were willing to trade Ubaldo Jimenez away just half a season after he competed for a Cy Young Award. He instantly became the Rockies' best (or second-best, depending on who you ask) prospect after the trade, flashing a mid-90s fastball, as well as a relatively polished breaking ball and changeup. He tends toward being a fly-ball pitcher, but I suspect that's just because he didn't want to feel left out in the Rockies' rotation.

Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks are 5-1, so it feels nitpicky to complain too much, but they've had some problems. Hitters not named Willie Bloomquist and Chris Young have started the season slowly, and no one other than Joe Saunders looked great the first time through the rotation. At some point, the Diamondbacks are going to lose a series, and the tail end of a roadtrip at Coors Field seems like as good a place as any to get it out of the way. Rockies two games to one. Have at me in the comments.

Head over to Purple Row to get the Rockies' take on events.

(Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.)

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